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  • Writer's pictureMichael Bastianelli

Holding Up The Looking Glass on Invisible Barriers in Art and Expression

As an artist of mixed European descent working in New York City, I have always embraced the creative expression of diverse cultures, finding inspiration in the rich tapestry of human experience. My background in various jobs and my education at SUNY Purchase College, a diverse and inclusive institution, have only served to reinforce my belief in the importance of judging individuals by their character, actions, and values, rather than their appearance alone.

However, in recent times, I have encountered a disturbing trend that threatens to undermine the very essence of artistic freedom. The rise of identity politics, fueled by the spread of misinformation on social media platforms, has led to an increasingly hostile environment in which artists like myself are targeted for defending the principles of art and expression.

Another concerning aspect of the current cultural landscape is the saturation of media, commercials, and the art world with misleading information about white culture, and people. Some individuals, driven by a dangerous and misguided narrative, have gone as far as to claim that Caucasians lack culture. This assertion is not only false but also hypocritical, as these same individuals often incorporate elements of European culture into their own artistic expression and ways of life. For instance, the appropriation of European fashion, architectural styles, and musical influences can be observed in various forms of art and media, revealing a double standard that perpetuates division and misunderstanding.

A few years ago, I also experienced a distressing incident while taking long exposure photographs of the buildings near Tudor City with a new camera and tripod. A woman approached me, screaming and accusing me of being a pervert. This confrontation occurred in front of a group of German tourists, who were just as confused by the woman's outburst as I was. They even asked if I was okay, offering their support in the face of this unwarranted attack.

A particularly disconcerting encounter involved a fairly well-known artist in New York City who told me via social media that I shouldn't photograph people of color, especially women of color. This was after they asked in a public forum for opinions on photographing people in public without their consent, a photographic style similar to Garry Winogrand's, which I admired during my college years. I explained that while privacy is a concern today, being in a public setting generally means that one is subject to local laws and regulations. Essentially, if they are in public, they are in public. The advent of cellphones and social media has also changed the narrative and methods of capturing people, with individuals often unconcerned about their surroundings while engaging in video calls on public buses or taking selfies beside statues in Central Park.

After providing the artist with an example I previously mentioned that occurred in Tudor City, they launched into a rant about the limitations they believed I should adhere to when photographing or creating art involving certain subjects. I sometimes wonder if they were that individual who screamed and yelled at me like a lunatic.

It seemed to me that this artist might be riding on the coattails of their parents' success, playing the role of a victim while demanding reparations from an entire race or gender based on historical injustices that may not be directly relevant to them. They had previously photographed Caucasian men, using the images to craft a manipulative narrative portraying them as "white cis male invaders." Their racial and gender identity appeared to render them untouchable, rather than their character.

This experience highlighted the hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness that can emerge when art is constrained by racial boundaries. I personally hope that in the future, they are recognized for their simple-mindedness and prejudice, despite their claims of being a victim of white patriarchy. If their narrow-minded ways continue, they may end up lonely and unloved, like an elderly person who refuses a nurse's care based on their skin color.

What disappointed me most was that no one in the group came to my defense. Even a former professor of mine, who was an admin of the group, did not respond to my direct messages. Instead, they left me in the dark while this biased individual continued to shout from their soapbox and they proceeded to demand that pay them for more time like an adult theatre box or Zoltar Fortune Teller Machine. Well at least I would get more bang for my buck and better knowledge from Zoltar or the subtitles of the adult film.

Cyberaggression and online bullying have become pervasive in this era of digital communication, with individuals engaging in "witch hunts" and feeling a sense of satisfaction from tearing others down. This destructive behavior is driven, in part, by the release of chemicals in the brain that create a sense of gratification when participating in these attacks.

The issue of inclusion in art is an essential aspect of the current discourse surrounding representation and diversity. However, it's crucial to recognize that forced inclusion can also be a form of censorship, as it stifles the authentic expression of an artist's vision. As a Caucasian male and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have found myself caught in a tug-of-war between conflicting expectations. On one hand, I have been criticized for not including enough minority representation in my work. On the other hand, I have been told that I cannot portray minorities or women in certain ways because of my racial and gender identity.

This conflict highlights the dangers of imposing strict guidelines on artistic expression, as it can lead to a stalemate in which artists are paralyzed by fear of criticism or backlash. Moreover, these expectations can become even more convoluted when one considers the ever-shifting landscape of gender identity and expression. For instance, an artist may be accused of being transphobic or homophobic if they create fan art featuring a character whose original creator has been labeled as such, regardless of the artist's intent or their interpretation of the character.

It is essential to acknowledge that my experiences are only a single perspective in a much larger conversation, and others may have their own unique stories and challenges. That being said, the key to fostering an inclusive, diverse, and meaningful artistic landscape lies in encouraging open dialogue and understanding, rather than imposing rigid expectations or labels on artists and their work. By promoting a culture of empathy, curiosity, and appreciation for the vast spectrum of human experience, we can move towards a more harmonious and enriching artistic environment that reflects the richness and complexity of our world.

Throughout history, prominent artists have spoken out against the censorship of art and the suppression of creative freedom. For instance, the renowned painter Pablo Picasso once said, "Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." This sentiment underscores the importance of artistic expression as a means to uncover deeper truths about the human experience, transcending the boundaries of race, culture, and nationality.

Another example can be found in the words of the celebrated playwright and poet Oscar Wilde, who declared, "The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame." This quote highlights the potential of art to hold a mirror up to society, revealing its flaws and challenging prevailing norms.

In the pursuit of progress and equity, it's important to recognize that every individual should be treated based on their actions and beliefs rather than being silenced due to preconceived notions tied to their gender, race, or other aspects of their identity. It's ironic that those who claim to champion progress and inclusivity sometimes advocate for the exclusion of certain voices, particularly those of men, based on the assumption that they are inherently controlling or suppressive.

While it is true that historically, men have held positions of power and control, it is crucial to avoid generalizations and allow each individual to express themselves and contribute to conversations around important topics. Dismissing the voices and artistic expressions of men today based on the actions of others in the past only serves to perpetuate the cycle of exclusion and misunderstanding.

Moreover, it is essential to consider the diverse backgrounds and experiences of individuals, including those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, religious minorities, or other underrepresented groups. By fostering an inclusive and open-minded environment, we can work towards dismantling harmful stereotypes and promoting understanding across various communities.

To emphasize the importance of freedom of expression and the dangers of censorship, let's consider the following quotes:

  1. "Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance." - Laurie Halse Anderson

  2. "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." - George Orwell

  3. "To forbid us anything is to make us have a mind for it." - Michel de Montaigne

These quotes serve as a reminder that suppressing certain voices or perspectives only leads to further division and misunderstanding. Instead, we should encourage dialogue and the sharing of diverse ideas to foster a more inclusive and empathetic society.

In conclusion, the recent trend of racial gatekeeping in the world of art, particularly in cosmopolitan centers like New York City, is a deeply troubling development that threatens to undermine the very essence of creative expression. As artists and as human beings, we must resist the urge to impose arbitrary boundaries on our work and embrace the power of art to bring people together, regardless of their ethnic background. It is only by engaging in open dialogue,

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